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Mana Pools, Zimbabwe - Wonderful wildlife encounters, a remarkable safari experience.

Updated: Dec 17, 2019

Mana Pools in Zimbabwe is often referred to as ‘Magical Mana’ for a myriad of reasons; the phenomenal lighting at sunrise and sunset, the populations of marvellous wildlife which inhabit the area and the freedom to be able to walk in the reserve to experience nature on foot.

Mana Pools is home to a huge array of species and the area makes for some truly remarkable wildlife and photography experiences…

I’m not going to go into all the facts and figures which surround this awesome area, instead I’m going to share some of the experiences the guests and I enjoyed during what was a very exciting five days!

'Lion' around camp

We spent two nights at Chitake Springs, which, during the dry season, is one of the only reliable water sources for miles around. Our encampment was literally 500-600 meters away from the spring on the edge of a dry, sandy riverbed, shaded by big acacia trees with a plethora of birds flitting between the branches.

During the first afternoon venture, we tracked and came across a large pride of lions; subadult males whose manes were just starting to develop, large lionesses and a quite a few young cubs… In total, we counted 19 lions in the pride, with at least one large dominant male somewhere in the vicinity as well! We watched the pride lounge around in the shade, busy digesting their buffalo meal, the remains of which were stashed not too far away under some bushes.

A day and night of epic sightings

The next morning was full of sightings. We followed up on the pride of lions again before watching a huge herd of nearly 300 buffalo making their way nervously to drink from the spring. Something spooked the herd, causing them to career away from the water’s edge, kicking up huge dust clouds as they scrambled back up the embankments… it was the lions! They had been lying in wait for the buffalo, trying to take full advantage of their need to drink water and their daily folly to the spring. Fortunately for the buffalo, the lions were still a little full from their previous hunt, so didn’t really put in a full-blooded attack. But nonetheless it was still a fantastic sight to see…

That night we were in for a very special evening. After a freshly cooked dinner, we decided to take full advantage of the beautiful moonlight and sit in the edge of the sandy riverbed and do a wee bit of star-gazing. There’s something very special about being in the middle of the African wilderness at night. There is no light pollution, and even though it was nearing a full moon, we could still see a cornucopia of stars and the Milky Way. As we sat gazing up in to the heavens the pride of lions we’d been enjoying earlier in the day started to vocalise. Their deep roars resonating effortlessly through the still night air, gradually getting closer and closer. At one point they could only have been between 50-100 meters away with their thunderous, powerful bellows vibrating to our very cores.

But wait, it gets better… under the bright, nearly full moonlight, about 300 meters away we caught the shapes of something large making their way towards the springs - a small herd of four elephants. We sat in complete silence, keeping very still as they walked peacefully past us, no more than 30 meters away. We all looked at each other, goosebumps covering our arms, aghast at what we had been so fortunate to enjoy.

The night’s wildlife encounters weren’t over just yet. Not too long after everyone had retired, commotion ran through the camp… an impala was running for its life with wild dogs in close pursuit. The dogs managed to catch the impala in camp, before dragging it down to the riverbed to tuck into their prize. But they weren’t to enjoy the spoils of their success. The lions we had heard calling not too far from camp had been attracted by the commotion and had decided that they wanted the impala for themselves. Outweighing the dogs, the lions soon chased them off, and hauled the antelope into some thickets. The next morning we went to look for the remains, but could find nothing apart from a patch of sand stained red from where the dogs or lions had begun to open up their dinner.

Now that was a truly epic night of wildlife encounters!

Yet more lions!

The following day we moved towards the flood plains of Mana Pools, with our encampment right on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. Again, we were treated to lions on the first afternoon - this time a male and two lioness which had also recently taken down a buffalo as it had made its way to the river. There wasn’t much left of the buffalo so the lions had retired under the shady branches of some nearby fig trees, whilst a large number of vultures squabbled over the remnants of the buffalo.

Elephants, elephants and more elephants

The main purpose of moving to the flood plains was to search for the resident packs of wild dogs whose home ranges encompass the riverbanks, and also the elephants which have become synonymous for standing on their hind legs to pull down branches from the towering trees in order to feast on the succulent leaves. We weren’t disappointed. We saw large numbers of elephants and even had the opportunity to photograph them during the phenomenal sunset light which this corner of southern Africa is so famous for. Warm golden light mixing with dust kicked up by the animals makes for a remarkable opportunity to capture some beautifully lit scenes!

A day packed full of wild dogs… and elephants.

It wasn’t until the morning of the last full day, that we were able to successfully locate the pack of wild dogs we had been tracking and searching for so fervently. But when we did find them, what an absolute treat it was. A pack of ten individuals had taken shelter not too far from the waters of the Zambezi (are you beginning to spot a trend with the predators yet?). We sat no more than 40 metres away from the pack, staying with them for well over an hour. As the day began to heat up, we knew that they weren’t going to move far so left them to snooze undisturbed.

During the middle of the day, we were fortunate to come across one of the local celebrities. A grand, noble gentleman who goes by the name 'Boswell'. Now this large chap is famous for a specific reason, he’s renowned for balancing on his hind legs and pulling down some of the mighty tree branches to feast on the succulent leaves and the nutritious cambium layer. It really is a wondrous sight to see an animal which weighs over five tonnes balancing precariously on his hind legs!

We came back to the snoozing dogs some time around mid-afternoon and were treated to a great show. Arriving before the dogs began to stir allowed us to get in the best position for some good photography opportunities. As the dogs began to rouse, they playfully re-established the pack bond, sniffing, greeting and wrestling. It wasn’t until all the dogs were up and active before they started to move… in our direction. We’d positioned ourselves on the opposite side of a small gully which we had guessed, by looking at the tracks left previously, was the route the dogs would take down to the water to refresh themselves after snoozing through the heat of the day.

The whole pack made their way pretty much right past our spot and down to the cool waters of the Zambezi. After drinking their fill, the vividly coloured predators scampered back up the embankment and bounded off into the thick forest at a remarkable pace - we would have had no hope at keeping up on foot!

Honestly, there are so many more encounters I could tell you about from this short but very eventful trip to Mana Pools but then I wouldn’t want to tell you everything… I’d much rather you experience this amazing place for yourself.

I’ve scheduled a couple of journeys to Mana Pools in 2020, but spaces are very limited. So if this has whetted your appetite, drop me a line and I’ll fill you in on all that is in store when you join me on this fantastic safari experience to ‘Magical Mana’!

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